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Order Of Worship (Liturgy)Psalm 135:1-3
Readings: 1 Corinthians 6, Revelation 7:9-17
Text: Lord's Day 26
Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,
For most of us, the first time we went to church was not a memorable experience. At least not for us. It wasn’t memorable -- that’s just to say that we don’t remember it. We don’t remember it because we were babies. Someone else carried us into church, probably one of our parents, or maybe one of our grandparents.
For most of us, our first time to church was at our baptism. At our baptism, we were helpless to do anything except maybe cry. We were brought to the front of the church by our mother and father and we were baptized. We did not baptize ourselves – rather, baptism was administered to us. Baptism is not something you do to yourself or for yourself. Instead, baptism is something that you have done to you. When baptism is administered, whether that’s as an infant (as with most of us) or as an adult (as with a few of us), you are a passive participant. God is the active participant. In this way, baptism is a testimony to the sovereignty of God in our salvation. Baptism declares that we need to be washed and it is God who does the washing. Baptism is about what God promises to us. With the help of the Catechism, we’ll see this afternoon that God promises:
1. Washing with Christ’s blood
2. Washing with Christ’s Spirit
Before we look closer at the promises of God in baptism, I want to consider the institution of baptism. We find Christ instituting baptism at the end of his life on earth, right before his ascension into heaven. The passage most frequently quoted is Matthew 28:18-20, what we often call the Great Commission. There the Lord Jesus commands the church to go out and make disciples of all nations, and baptism is a part of that. The church is to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Now the Catechism quotes Matthew 28:19 in question and answer 71. The Catechism asks, “Where has Christ promised that he will wash us with his blood and Spirit?” And then the answer goes right away to the institution of baptism in Matthew 28:19. Now at first glance, this may seem odd. After all, Matthew 28:19 doesn’t sound like a promise and it doesn’t seem to mention washing. But appearances can be deceiving.
One of the keys here is the very word “baptizing.” By definition, baptism is a kind of a washing. Although we instinctively think of it in sacramental terms, in its New Testament context, you can’t separate baptism and washing. Baptism is a kind of a washing that either takes place through sprinkling or through immersion. It doesn’t really matter which – the original word can be used to describe both. The meaning and power of baptism has nothing to do with the amount of water used. At any rate, washing is there in Matthew 28:19.
But what about the promise? This is where we have to look more closely at the Great Commission where it says, “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In Scripture, God’s Name is God himself, God as he has revealed himself to us. So, “in the name of” means that our baptism is a picture of our communion with God. It doesn’t so much mean that the minister is baptizing on behalf of God, as God’s representative (which he is – he is a minister of the Word and Sacraments). Rather, “in the name of” means that the one being baptized is being promised fellowship with the Triune God. Baptism is a sign and seal of that promise.
So, it makes sense that the Catechism draws attention to this passage first of all. The Lord Jesus is saying in the Great Commission that baptism is a washing that portrays fellowship with God. Baptism is a visible preaching of the gospel. It announces that believers are washed with Christ’s blood and Spirit and brought into communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is confirmed further by Mark 16:16, Titus 3:5 and Acts 22:16.
Now we can get to what it means that God promises washing with Christ’s blood in baptism. God promises to wash us with Christ’s blood. That’s just another way of saying that God promises to declare us right with himself because of what Jesus Christ did in his redemptive work. Washing with Christ’s blood is another way of speaking about justification.
The seventh chapter of the Revelation to John gives us a powerful picture of what God promises in baptism. If we are left to ourselves, we’re dirty and unacceptable in God’s eyes. If we don’t believe in Christ, God remains a judge who sees us as objects of his wrath, as those who deserve his eternal judgment in hell. But what happens when we do believe in the Lord Jesus, when we rest and trust in him? Then God becomes our Father and he sees us as his children, he sees us as the people who are described in Revelation 7:14 as those who have robes washed. Their robes have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, in the blood of Jesus.
And what happens then? Well, you know what happens if you’re making a roast and you get some of the blood on your clothes. No one in their right mind would take that blood and dump into their washing machine and use it to wash their laundry. It’d probably wreck your clothes and leave them dirty and stinky. But the blood of Jesus is different. When we’re washed with the blood of Jesus, we’re made permanently white and clean. Being washed with the blood of Jesus means receiving the forgiveness of our sins from God – note that it’s “receiving” and not “achieving.” This is something that Christ does for us, apart from us. Forgiveness means that we are restored to a healthy, friendly relationship with God. Forgiveness means that that he becomes our Father who loves us and will always take care of us. All this happens through the blood of Jesus and you can see it in Revelation 7 – all those people, a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, all dwelling in God’s presence, all of them “before the throne of God,” all of them serving God in his temple, with God spreading his tent over them. It’s an amazing picture of what we can look forward to if we have been washed with the blood of Jesus Christ.
Loved ones, this is what God promises to us in our baptism. Let’s be clear about that. He promises washing with Christ’s blood to us. Here we have to distinguish between the promise and the fulfillment of the promise. Sometimes baptism is compared to a cheque. Someone gives you a cheque for a million dollars. Let’s say you take that cheque and crumple it up and stick it in your pocket and forget about it. And if that cheque ends up in the washing machine and you pull on your pants a few days later and you pull out this tiny wad of paper from the pocket – well, you’ve missed out on the million dollars. You had the cheque, but you didn’t bring it to the bank to cash it or deposit it. It’s the same with God’s promise of washing. When we were baptized, God promised us something so rich, so wonderful: the washing with Christ’s blood. He declared, “I promise to declare you right with me through Jesus and his salvation. But you do have to believe this promise for it to become a reality.” In other words, through faith in Christ we bring the cheque to the bank and receive what has been promised. There’s a call to faith here.
So, there we have the first promise in baptism: washing with Christ’s blood, making us right with God, justification. Next, God promises to wash us with Christ’s Spirit. This has to do with our sanctification. Sanctification has two aspects to it. One aspect is what we call definitive sanctification. In definitive sanctification, believers are set apart by God for service to him. The other aspect is what we call progressive sanctification, and this is usually what we mean when we talk about sanctification. Progressive sanctification is the process by which we begin to look more and more like Christ. Progressive sanctification is only completed after we die or when Christ returns. It’s this progressive sanctification that’s in view in the Catechism in question and answer 70 and 71.
When God promises to wash us with Christ’ Spirit that means that God promises to send the Holy Spirit to live in us. He promises to sanctify us so that we live as members of Christ. When the Catechism says, “sanctified to be members of Christ,” that’s drawing attention to our union with Christ through the Holy Spirit and faith. The word “members” evokes the image of a body. As believers, we are united to Christ, we are his body, we have been grafted into him. And the result of that is a changed life, a life that is different, a life that is set apart for God. In baptism, God promises to make us into people who want to live a holy life. God promises in baptism that he will continue his renovation project in us, to make us into those who increasingly reflect the image of Christ.
You can see this illustrated in what we read from 1 Corinthians 6. In that chapter, the apostle Paul writes about all sorts of people who will not inherit the kingdom of God, people who will not be saved. He writes that adulterers, people who keep on having sex with someone they’re not married to and never repent, adulterers will not go to heaven. The same goes for people who worship idols. Paul makes it clear those who go on engaging in homosexual activities and never repent will not inherit the kingdom of God. And the same with thieves, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers and the swindlers, those who cheat and trick other people out of their money. All those people will never go to heaven so long as they continue in those sins and never repent. Then Paul adds that surprising statement in verse 11: “And that is what some of you were.” Some of the believers in the church at Corinth used to be those very people who cannot inherit the kingdom of God.
But now they’re different. Something has changed and that something is the fact that they were washed – in other words, they were baptized. When they were baptized, God promised that they would be set apart as his people by the Holy Spirit. Believing in Jesus Christ, resting and trusting in him, God would do that work, God would fulfill his promise. God would transform them into people who were different than what they formerly were. They become more and more dead to sin and lead a holy and blameless life.
Brothers and sisters, God has made the same promise to us in our baptism. God said, “By my power and grace, you believe in Jesus Christ and I will do my work in you with the Holy Spirit. I promise to wash you and transform you. I will help you to kill your old nature and live out of your new nature which is united to Jesus Christ.”
Now washing with Christ’s Spirit doesn’t mean that we instantaneously stop sinning. As long as we live on this earth we will be sinners, we will continue to struggle with the remnants of our old nature. But God promises in our baptism that he will all the while be there with his Holy Spirit, he will help us to grow and to see the progress of holiness in our lives. He promises to lead us so that our union with Christ bears fruit in how we speak, think, and act. That’s exactly what Paul says in Philippians 1:6 when he says that God “who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” God will carry it on to completion!
Loved ones, baptism is about the gospel. It’s about the God who sovereignly saves us. It’s about God who takes care of both our justification and our sanctification. You know there are sometimes people who think that justification is God’s part and sanctification is our part. We put the two parts together and salvation is the result. It’s sort of like a math equation. God’s part (justification) plus our part (sanctification) equals salvation. But the problem is that the Bible tells us that there is no math equation. That’s the bottom line with grace. Everything we have is from God. God is 100% the author of our salvation. If we’re thinking that salvation is partly God’s work and partly ours, we’re missing the gospel of grace proclaimed to us by our baptisms. As the Bible says in Titus 3:5, “…he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” And then Paul goes on to connect our redemption with our baptism – not that we’re saved because of our baptism, but that baptism portrays the gospel which saves us. Our baptism announces loud and clear that God is sovereign in our salvation.
This is also clear in article 34 of the Belgic Confession. In the third paragraph, we confess that the minister gives us what is visible. The minister takes water in his hand and sprinkles it on the one to be baptized. But it is the Lord who gives us what the sacrament points to. The Confession says that he washes, he purges, he cleanses our souls, he renews our hearts, he fills them with comfort. God gives assurance of his fatherly goodness, clothes us with a new nature and he takes away the old nature with its works. All those verbs and in every one of them God is the subject, God is the one doing the actions. Baptism is about what God does.
There’s a lot that could be said about baptism, but if you understand that one point, you understand what’s most important about this sacrament. This sacrament is a visual preaching of the gospel. In baptism we see that God promises to wash us and to be our God and he promises that we will be his people, that we will be his children and heirs – all because of Christ.
Again this afternoon, God is proclaiming his promises to you. God is saying to each and every one of us, “You were baptized. You received the sign and seal of my promises to you. What have you done with my promises? Have you taken me seriously? Did you believe me?”
God’s promises are for you beloved, signed and sealed in your baptism. Take those promises seriously and embrace them. Listen to what your God says and believe in Jesus Christ, rest and trust in his blood, his obedience, his suffering, his death, his resurrection. Trust that Christ and Christ alone gives you forgiveness of sins and righteousness before God’s face. With such faith, God will give you the assurance of having been washed with Christ’s blood, having been declared right with him and having all your sins, past, present and future, forgiven.
With such faith, simply resting and trusting in Christ, God will give you the washing with Christ’s Spirit. God will increasingly transform your life through the power of the Holy Spirit. He will give you the strength to change, to say no to “sin,” and “yes” to righteousness. And, in the end, you will join with the people of God before the throne of God, giving eternal praise to your God and Saviour, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” AMEN.
Our faithful Father in heaven,
We thank you for your promises which are signed and sealed in baptism. We’re grateful that you promise us both justification and sanctification and that you sovereignly work out both. We thank you that all your promises are “yes” and “Amen” in Jesus Christ. Father, we pray that you would help us with your Spirit to continue resting and trusting in him. We pray that our faith would bear fruit in all we speak, think, and do. Father, we also commend to you our young people who have yet to respond to your promises by making profession of faith. Please work in them with your Word and Spirit so that they joyfully and publicly embrace what you have promised. Please bless us and hear us in Christ our Lord, AMEN.
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service. Thank-you.
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